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Out TV: Stand-alone channel no more

Gay channel moves forward on Shaw

BUNDLED AT LAST: 'The message for the consumer is: no longer do you have to pay $8.95 a month to get a lifestyle gay channel,' says OutTV president Bill Craig. Credit: Xtra West Files

OutTV, formerly PrideVision, has reached an agreement with Shaw cable and its satellite business Star Choice over the carriage of Canada’s first gay television channel.

“The message for the consumer is: no longer do you have to pay $8.95 a month to get a lifestyle gay channel,” says OutTV president Bill Craig.

“If you’re already a Shaw subscriber you can pick us like any others. If you want to save money you can just substitute OutTV for one of the channels you already have. If you’re already on the More Movies package [on Star Choice] just ask to get OutTV added for free.”

Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra West, owns a minority share of OutTV and its sister channel, the all-erotica PrideVision.

When OutTV premiered on Apr 12, Rogers, Vidéotron and other providers that serve the eastern part of the country added it to their regular digital lineups, specialty packs and channel bundles. Customers in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes enjoyed a free preview of OutTV and could subscribe to the channel for the same price as any other digital specialty channel in the same category.

Eastern providers also carried OutTV’s porn affiliate, PrideVision.

Shaw communications, which provides services to about 33 percent of Canadian households and virtually all the coverage in Alberta and BC, refused to carry PrideVision and left OutTV as a stand-alone channel that cost more than twice that of any other lifestyle channel.

OutTV was marketed only alongside the Playboy and Hustler channels and wasn’t available in any packages. OutTV has never run porn.

Craig filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) alleging that Shaw’s refusal to accord the same treatment to OutTV as all the other digital channels was a violation of CRTC regulations.

The agreement, reached before a scheduled CRTC public hearing in early July, will have OutTV carried on Shaw cable at the same rate as any of the other digital specialty channels.

“One of the processes with the CRTC is when you’re going into a hearing process, you provide to them what you see as a resolution,” says Shaw president Peter Bissonnette, who was generous with his time when answering Xtra West’s questions.

“The resolution we proposed at that time is exactly what we’ve agreed to,” says Bissonnette. “In Shaw, any customer can pick any one, two, five, 10, or all of our digital services in any combination they want. Customers have the flexibility now to package OutTV with any other services they may want.”

Craig said in Xtra West’s Apr 28 issue that he’d had a lot of difficulty even getting meetings with Shaw to talk about getting OutTV the same treatment as the other channels. Since then, he says, Shaw has been more willing to work with him.

“Representatives from Shaw came to our offices twice,” says Craig. “They came and sat in our conference room. They came and negotiated with us. Twice! They walked right through Toronto’s gay village, walked up the stairs and came up and visited us.

“Their attitude was ‘let’s fix this’ as opposed to ‘over our dead bodies’ type stuff,” continues Craig. “I think it was the power of a potential public hearing because I think they knew if we got to a public hearing it was going to turn into a mess for them.”

“In this negotiation there was a very positive attitude,” he says. “The proof is going to be in the pudding. Are they going to follow through? But it looks pretty good.”

Shaw still hasn’t agreed, however, to run the queer erotica channel, PrideVision.

“At this time, we’re not carrying it because of capacity issues and services that we are launching that would have high capacity such as high definition services,” says Bissonnette. “For instance, in Vancouver, CTV is launching a high definition service which we have to carry. Those must-carry services take priority over category two [PrideVision]. Of course, high definition also takes a lot of capacity, and so in order to accommodate those, we will continue to carry as we do.”

“At this point they don’t want to carry it,” says Craig. “They don’t think there’s going to be an adequate interest level in it. Even though Rogers and Vidéotron and Cogeco are carrying it in the east, their view is that there are not enough gay people in BC and Alberta to make it worth their while.

“We’re going to be promoting PrideVision on OutTV,” continues Craig. “Hopefully with people calling in to Shaw and asking for it, it will finally come across, but it’s not a must-carry. We really can’t insist that they carry it.”

OutTV is no longer listed on Shaw’s website as an adult channel and is included along with all the other specialty channels in the same category.

When Xtra West checked in April, as well as the Hustler and Playboy channels, Shaw had pay-per-view straight erotica available on its website. There was no queer erotica anywhere. Now, no pay-per-view erotica listings are online; queer or otherwise. But Bissonnette says that doesn’t mean it’s not available to subscribers.

“We do have pay-per-view services that are available as well-adult pay-per-view services.” When Xtra West asked if there was any queer content, Bissonnette said: “Oh yes. In fact every night there’s a new movie. It’s called Adam, I believe.”